With Raging Fire, it often feels as if director Benny Chan has managed to pull a fast one. The late Chan, who also co-wrote and produced the film, manages - despite China's much more granular, sociocultural, approach to film and television censorship - to deliver a film full of morally grey characters. Raging Fire presents an abject panic that springs specifically from an inflexible adherence to state scripture both inside and outside the film. Hong Kong's police force is characterised here as an organisation strangled by a mix of procedure and corruption. Hierarchical virtues have been weaponised, used by those who have power to manipulate then obscure, transforming their formerly righteous underlings into tremendously potent threats to social order.
Although restorative in its conclusion, as mandated by China's National Radio and Television Administration, Raging Fire's route to this victory is characterised by a pitiless approach to action that sees dozens upon dozens of people chewed up then spat out. Donnie Yen plays Cheung Sung-bong, a senior inspector defined by his rigid approach to policing. Cheung's lifeblood is the law, this cop unwilling to bend the rules even when there are clear financial or occupational upsides. Cheung is able to survive despite this obvious handicap simply because he is truly exceptional at his job, able to apply a twisting, body-straining, martial arts technique to batter through entire drug gangs almost singlehandedly. In this sense Yen's hilariously indefatigable character is very much like Judge Dredd, the uncompromising lawman from the pages of 2000 AD.
Like Dredd, Cheung has a mechanical aspect to him, one that that allows him to instantly make blunt, life-altering, decisions whatever the battlefield. He is just that sure of himself. This, in of itself, is entertaining. Cheung navigates Raging Fire with an almost dorkish detachment from his surroundings, our sole insight into his deeper drives is a dreamy fixation on a rain-lashed dockside where a protégé made an error of judgement that completely changed his life's trajectory. We see these moments replayed from the perspectives of both policemen - Cheung remembers himself slogging through a muddy quagmire to reach his colleagues; Nichola Tse's Yau Kong-ngo is instead fixated on the faulty premise that put him on the pier in the first place. Chan's film suggests - and eventually outright states - that the only thing separating a virtuous policeman and a homicidal madman is a moment of circumstance. Both identities are steeped in violence.